Winter in the South is always a bit dreary. Tennessee is especially mild, and the scenery becomes painfully unremarkable. Thus, upon realizing we had a five-day block of travel, we rather impulsively decided upon a quick trip to Northern California. To begin our journey, we flew into San Francisco, CA. Below, you’ll find an itinery of how we spent our five days exploring northern California and southern Oregon.
What we packed:
We attempted to pack light for this trip, including only one bag each in addition to our camera equipment. Each of us were sure to include practical wear, including at least 3 pairs of “weatherproof” pants, boots, wool socks, beanies, a rain jacket, a few sweaters, waterproof layers for underneath, as well as a warm jacket. The PNW is very damp and misty, thus it’s best to prepare for multiple layers and nonstop rain.
Day 1 (San Francisco, CA)
Accommodations: The Urban Hotel. Located across from the gates of Chinatown, this clean and economic spot is great for single travelers or couples on the go. The only downsides are the community bathrooms and the night noise of the city. Estimated Cost: $120
Food: In and Out Burger, Ten Ren’s Tea Shop (Be sure to buy yourself a box of the Dragon Well Green Tea- Sapphire Grade).
Favorite Stops: Fisherman’s Wharf (don’t miss the obese Sea Lions!) Alcatraz Island (not worth the boat tour, but see it from shore) Lombard Street (stand at the base and look up) Chinatown (Our personal favorite. Jam-packed with tiny shops and tons of culture)
Day 2 (San Francisco, CA to Bayside, CA)
Duration of car travel: 6-7 hours
Accommodations: Fiddlehead Yurt- Arcata. This was our favorite Airbnb that we stayed in during this trip. Nestled in a eucalyptus grove, it was completely cozy and came well-equipped with everything we could have wished for. We especially enjoyed the comfortable bed, shower house and wood burning stove. Estimated Cost $175
Food: Union Square (San Fran) for breakfast (Juice Shop). On our way out of town, we stopped by a Whole Foods to load up on goods for the next few days. Produce and fresh options are limited the farther north you drive along the 101. We made sure to purchase a wide variety of trail mixes, fruit (mangos are incredible in northern Cali), veggies, and a plenty of Sake. Once we were closer to Bayside, we stumbled upon an adorable diner called the Chimney Tree Grill. The grilled cheese, fries and a milkshake were just what we needed to keep going.
Favorite Stops: Golden Gate Bridge (Most of the tourists stop at the overlook right after crossing the bridge. However, if you drive to the exit past the overlook, and take the Sausalito exit and turn right, you’ll take another right on Moore Rd. This will lead you around to a US Coast Guard Base which is encompassed by Horseshoe Bay. After parking and walking a little ways to the water, we found this to be the coolest spot for photos of the bridge and surrounding area. Navarro River Redwoods State Park (Instead of continuing up the 101 to Bayside, we took exit 522 for CA-128 W toward Fort Bragg/Mendocino. This leg of the trip was one of the more fascinating, as you start in a more arrid climate and gradually see the scenery shift into the beautiful Redwood rainforest.) Mendocino (The first dreamy, sea-stack laden beach. Be wary of high-tide. The rocks can be quite slippery.) Chandelier Tree (classic drive-through giant Redwood)
Day 3 (Bayside, CA to Crescent City, CA)
Duration of car travel: 2-3 hours
Accommodations: 1970s Airstream Airbnb. We’ve always been interested in purchasing an Airstream trailer. Thus, upon realizing we could stay in one through Airbnb, we were all about it. To add to our excitement, we later discovered it was settled right in the middle of an ancient Redwood Grove. Fallen redwoods further decorated the lush scene. The bed was surprisingly comfortable, and we enjoyed utilizing the tiny kitchen. Estimated cost: $120
Food: French press of coffee for breakfast, followed by the best mangos ever. On this day, we mostly ate the food we packed for the drive. There weren’t very many options in the area.
Favorite Stops: Trinadad, CA (Caught our eye because of the unusual amount of Elk roaming freely. Naturally, we pulled off on a dirt road and hopped the fence into a field to get to know a pair of the regal giants. Come to find out, they can be quite territorial, so proceed with caution). The beaches in Trinadad were also among our favorite on the trip. Patrick’s Point is an absolute must see. Pebble Beach, Crescent City, CA
Day 4 (Crescent City, CA to Eureka, CA)
Duration of car travel: 4-5 hours
Accommodations: Mom & Pop Motel in Eureka. It was our goal to drive into Oregon, explore the beaches all day, and then drive south to get ourselves closer to San Francisco. We ended up running out of steam in Eureka, CA. The drive from Crescent City to Eureka is only about 1.5 hours, however, after exploring and driving around, we ended up with about 5 hours of travel time. Estimated cost: $150
Food: More snacking in the car. For dinner, we had a special occasion to celebrate, so we were entirely thrilled to find an indian restaurant (Tandoori Bites) in Eureka. The indian feast was probably the best meal we had while we were on the west coast. Something about it just hit the spot after days of wandering in our car, hiking and exploring.
Favorite Stops: Prairie Creek Redwoods. All along the coastal highway, there are majestic sights to be seen. There are tons of national forests with great hiking and amazing views, so don't hesitate to stop and get out of the car!
Day 5 (Eureka, CA to San Francisco, Ca)
Duration of car travel: 4-5 hours
Accommodations: VW Van in San Francisco (This was an airbnb find, which sounded awesome when we booked it. However, it was by far our worst Airbnb experience to date. The van was advertised as being parked in the bay area, although, to our surprise it was actually located in a sketch neighborhood, on a steep hill. Not our best decision) Estimated cost: $100
Food: We’re big fans of Asian cuisine and decided to try a place in San Francisco. We found a cool little art district, and enjoyed a last meal of edamame, soup and noodles.
Favorite Stops: Fern Canyon (This was the perfect last stop on our way back to San Francisco. The Canyon can be reached by a moderate drive through a redwood rainforest, and a quarter of a mile easy hike into the creek bed. Be sure to check the weather report before going, as there is often flooding and hazardous road conditions. We spent a lot of time hiking up the ravine of Fern Canyon. Wear some kind of waterproof shoe, rainboot, etc. or prepare to get soaking wet. We were absolutely drenched by the time we left, but it was definitely worth it. This is a special place to us, because it’s actually where Graham popped the question. He got down on one knee on a 3,000 year-old fallen redwood. We also can’t forget to mention the amazing Elk sightings. An entire family was resting in the reeds right after we got engaged. It was quite the majestic sight.)
Overall, we felt like this trip was an absolute dream. We went to California/Oregon with the goal of capturing some of the country’s most beautiful scenery in photographs. We could not have dreamed of the magnificent grandeur we would witness on the coast lines and in the forests. The people were diverse, the weather was unique and we are so grateful were able to share in such an experience.